A happily married friend recently shared that when her kids were growing up, she asked her husband, “What in the world are we going to do together when they leave?”
They began brainstorming for activities they could do together. He loved to go fishing; she had no interest. She loved seeing plays, but they bored him to tears.
He enjoyed playing golf and asked if she might want to try that. She wasn’t sure about it at first, but she kept practicing and grew to love it. They ended up making friends with other golfing couples, and they enjoyed playing new courses on vacations.
And these days? “We still enjoy playing golf together,” she reports, “and he even goes to plays with me!”
Their kids are now adults with lives of their own, and my friend and her husband still have a strong, vibrant relationship. I believe part of the reason is that they’ve consistently made it a priority to spend time together.
Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case.
Empty Nest Divorce
Since 1990, the divorce rate among couples aged 55-64 has more than doubled, according to recent data. While reasons vary, one significant contributing factor is that many couples focus so much time and energy on raising children that they neglect their own relationship and find it difficult to reconnect later.
When the last child has moved out, and the two of you no longer share the mission of caring for them, it can be hard to navigate the transition. You may struggle to remember what you enjoyed doing together before the kids came along.
And, you and your spouse may react differently, which may add to the tension. One may experience grief, while the other feels excited about future possibilities.
So, what can you do to combat feelings of disconnection and frustration? How can you strengthen or restore intimacy?
Ways to Reconnect
If your children have already left home or will do so soon, here are some suggestions:
Get some rest
When you’re going through a big change, it can take more energy than you think. If you are tired, slow down and rest! If possible, sleep in or take naps. Give your body and soul a little time to recover.
Accept that things are changing
Try to be patient with your spouse (and yourself). Remind each other that it’s normal to feel unsettled during times of transition, and that it’s OK.
Remember how it all began
Take time together to reminisce. Look at photos from when you dated and the early years of your marriage. Talk about favorite memories from those times and the qualities that attracted you to each other.
Plan a getaway
Taking a trip together can be a great way to reconnect. Talk about the good parts of your relationship and calmly discuss any areas that need work. Try to let go of past disappointments and forgive one another. Commit to each other to work toward making your marriage the very best it can be now. Talk about what that means to each of you.
Recreate special times
If you can, revisit some of the places you went when you were dating. Listen to your favorite love songs, and dance together in the living room or the backyard. Watch movies you’ve both enjoyed.
Talk about new interests
Share with each other any new interests or dreams you have, including things you might be able to do together. Your spouse may secretly dream of visiting Italy. You might think it sounds fun to join a bowling league together or try ballroom dancing. Maybe your spouse would like to take a day trip to visit a nearby attraction. You may be surprised to learn how each other’s interests have changed over time.
Create new routines
Dedicate one night a week as “date night” … now that you actually have time for regular date nights again! Take turns planning where you’ll go and what you’ll do on your dates. You could also spend time volunteering together at church or a charity you both support. Or, schedule regular times to take walks together. If you have interests that our spouse doesn’t share, designate certain times of the week for those—he can watch his TV show each Thursday night while you join a friend for coffee or take a pottery class.
Enjoy physical intimacy
Many believe that as you grow older, you lose interest in sex. However, many older married couples report a high level of sexual satisfaction. As life’s demands decrease a little, you can slow down and savor intimate time together. And of course, a big “empty nest” advantage is not having to lock the doors to keep the kids out!
If any health conditions or other physical issues complicate matters, please don’t hesitate to pursue medical advice. Help is often available if you will ask your doctor.
Make it a habit to pray with your spouse for a few minutes each day. This is a way to reconnect with each other and God at the same time. If you are comfortable, pray out loud. You can thank God for specific blessings, pray for your spouse’s needs, pray for your children, and any other needs that come to mind. If you aren’t comfortable praying aloud, hold hands and pray together silently. If you finish first, just give your spouse’s hand a gentle squeeze and wait for them to finish praying.
Seek help if needed
If you’ve tried to reconnect with your spouse and it doesn’t seem to be working, seek outside help. There may be unresolved losses and disappointments that you set aside during the busy years, and old hurts can spring to mind when life slows down a bit. A marriage course or some counseling may be just what you need to get back on track.
Remember, it probably took a while for the two of you to grow apart, and it may take time (and patience) to reconnect. In fact, it may feel as if you’re starting all over.
The important thing is to be proactive—communicate, spend time together, and lean on each other for support. The second half of your marriage can be miserable or better than ever—it’s up to the two of you to decide.
We offer marriage courses that help couples at all ages and stages. For more information, click here or give us a call at 800-650-9995.